Before I started writing this review, I checked my iTunes library. What I found was a plethora of Megadeth, Motörhead and Judas Priest albums, but hidden among “Rust in Peace” and “Ace of Spades,” there was an album titled “Hit and Run” by Girlschool. Judging by the band’s name, Girlschool may seem out of among the heavy/speed metal greats that occupy my music collection, but this is far from the truth.
In fact, though they acquired almost no commercial fame beyond the early ’80s, a large fan-base has accumulated and Girlschool has been marked as an inspiration for many other female bands. The reason I’m bringing up Girlschool is to magnify the impact that the revolutionary band The Runaways has had on the music world.
The Runaways were an American all-girl rock band whose career lasted only four short years. Formed by rhythm guitarist Joan Jett and drummer Sandy West, The Runaways jumped to fame through West’s connection to the popular producer Kim Fowley. Elated by the idea of an all-girl rock band, Fowley seeks out Cherie Currie, a misunderstood aspiring singer and hires her for the role of lead-singer, along with bassist Micki Steele and lead guitarist Lita Ford. Following multiple changes to the line-up, a permanent bassist named Jackie Fox was hired. The Runaways were complete and the band plunged into a world of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll.
With a band as influential as The Runaways, it’s no surprise there’s a film adaption of the band’s history and debut director Floria Sigismondi delivers such a film. Sigismondi’s “The Runaways” stars “Twilight” star Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett, alongside Dakota Fanning, who plays Cherie Currie, and the excellent Michael Shannon as Kim Fowley. However, just like the band’s music, “The Runaways” can be seen either as shameless exploitation or an entertaining thrill-ride — I, for one, think it’s a bit of both.
Those expecting an in-depth look at the band’s personal struggles will be severely disappointed, as “The Runaways” presents only a quick-summary of the band’s career. Sigismondi’s bio-pic quickly jumps from presenting the socially-awkward Joan Jett and Cherie Currie to showing them as close band-mates. But though the pacing is almost too quick and energetic, “The Runaways” never seems rushed and is continuously entertaining from beginning to end and this is because of the great performances that the film’s leads lend.
Stewart and Fanning’s portrayals are spot-on. Stewart captures Joan Jett’s rebellious spirit brilliantly and, in the process, has established herself as a serious actor. Fanning also establishes Cherie’s role as a sex symbol with much gusto and gives an increasingly-haunting performance as the troubled musician.
But the best performance comes from Michael Shannon. His character, Kim Fowley, is a combination of David Bowie and Rick Rubin. With the style of Bowie and the producing talents of Rubin, Fowley embraces every negative stereotype that the rock n’ roll world faces and encourages The Runaways to do the same. Shannon gives one of his most idiosyncratic performances and is both entertaining and believable in every scene he graces.
Considering this is a bio-picture about a famous rock band, it’s no surprise that several of the band’s hits grace the soundtrack. These include “Cherry Bomb” and “Queens of Noise.” Fans of the band’s music will be not disappointed.
“The Runaways” ends too quickly but unlike a majority of biographical films, it never faces a dull moment and its charismatic performances and electrifying music make it a must-see for any rock ‘n’ roll enthusiast.
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